Category Archives: Travel

SXSW 2010: My Panel Moderator Experience

I got back from SXSW 2010 a few days ago, and I thought I would write a post about what it was like to moderate a panel while it’s fresh in my mind. As you may know, my panel submission, “Student Startups: Entrepreneurship in the University” was selected to be a real panel at SXSW 2010! From the time that I knew it was accepted, I sprung into action and got my panelists together. Ellen from Alight Learning, Ben from Olark (formerly Hab.la) and Rishi from Underground Printing.

While I did my research beforehand (I was a student entrepreneur myself, to begin with), I felt the need to cram some preparation a few days before the panel, too. I guess I should have gotten everything ready before the conference started, but I also wanted to get proper feedback from my panelists.

One way I prepared to moderate was by reading a few blog posts on the subject that were linked to from the Speaker FAQ. Most agree that one should not over-prepare the panelists. You want the discussion to happen during the panel itself and not before. In the hour before the panel, inside the green room, I had to sort of referee the panelists to avoid discussing too much. Most also agree that the moderator needs to do the most homework. I had to come up with the focus of my panel, questions to ask to reach that focus, and I had to be prepared to follow up with more questions depending on where the conversation went (which included asking questions to get the discussion back on track if it was going off on a tangent).

At first the panel was going to be about details: where to get money, what kind of corporate structure to use, etc. When I started thinking about the potential panel attendee, I realized that these questions would probably be really boring and unnecessary. I tried to frame my panel from the viewpoint of a college undergrad who just wants to get something started. I hoped that by the end of the panel, at least one person in the room would decide to give startups a try, or at least be excited enough by the idea to do more research into it.

My biggest worries were that no one would come, or that too many people would come. I also worried that people would be mean on the backchannel (as I have witnessed during other panels). I worried that I would not have enough questions to ask and that there would be a bunch of dead silence. Luckily, none of these things happened. The audience was a good size, I treated the audience with respect from the beginning and asked them to do the same on our hashtag, and my panelists were really interesting and led me to ask other followup questions. I don’t think there was much filler content at all.

Probably the only truly stressful part of the process was when Rishi called me the day before the panel and told me he couldn’t make it, by no fault of his own. I had to find a replacement panelist within less than 24 hours! Luckily, I am an entrepreneur at heart and rose to the challenge. I went to the trade show floor and started asking the startup-looking companies if their founder was there, and if so, if he/she had started a company while in school. I got incredibly lucky the first time I asked, at Tungle.me‘s booth. I ended up meeting Marc Gingras, a really awesome guy who ended up working out perfectly. Marc rounded out the panel as the guy who started a company during the dotcom boom. He also has experience being a VC and doing other startups after his first. I really can’t thank Marc enough for spending his time sitting on my panel and helping it become a great success.

My basic strategy during the panel was to break the ice by asking the audience to participate a bit first. I stole this from the App-Vertising panel I saw a few days before. I asked who in the audience were students, investors, entrepreneurs or educators. Next, I had my panel introduce themselves and then I introduced myself. I started with an easy question: “I am a student who wants to get into startups, what should I do?” From there I listened to the panelists and tried to anticipate where the discussion was heading. I had a few points I wanted to hit, so if I heard something that related to another topic, I segued into it. For example, I might’ve said “Ben, you mentioned finding your co-founders at a student group, did anyone else have a similar experience? If not, where did you find your co-founders?”

The backchannel on Twitter also provided a good source of questions. I’m really glad that people asked them because it kept the conversation relevant to what people wanted to know and it gave me a chance to save my questions for a more relevant time to ask them.

I haven’t gotten the official feedback on the panel yet, but I think that it was overall a success. Very few people left in the during the panel and many people were nice enough to come up and talk to me and the panelists afterward. I wish I could have talked to every single person to see if the panel was helpful, but I think they had to run to the keynote right after (and so did we)! I really hope that the panel inspired some people to take a chance and become an entrepreneur. I think that if one person became more inspired after hearing the panel, our mission was definitely accomplished.

While the process was a bit stressful and required a fair amount of work, I’d love to either moderate or participate in a panel again, someday. I’ve got to start thinking of panel ideas for SXSW 2011!

[Photo credit: Chris Norred]

SXSW 2010 Official Celebrity Sighting Namedropping Post!

I have lots of material to post from this year’s SXSW 2010 Interactive Festival. First thing’s first, though: I need to document all of the celebrities that I sighted and took pictures with!

The first celebrity of South By came fairly early. While leaving the Windows Phone party on Friday night, I ran into my old friend Pete Cashmore. I can call him my old friend because we used to be in that 9rules thing together and he wrote about Notecentric and MapsKrieg on his Mashable blog. I chatted him up a bit to see if he remembered me (he either did or was being nice). And he was pretty nice, too! He told me about the Mashable party at Buffalo Billiards (that I didn’t actually get a chance to go to). Then I had to run off because there was a free taco truck nearby and Pete was trying to get into the Speakeasy anyway.

That same night I also spotted Scobleizer, but I didn’t talk to him because I was looking for additional Korean tacos and I already met him last year. I also met some Jonas Brothers but later found out they were just cardboard cutouts.

The next night, at the Frog Design opening party, I was waiting in line and met a cool guy named Mike D’Amico. The line was for a photo booth. I guess we’re both pretty narcissistic. Anyway, some gals ran up to mike and started talking to him. They seemed strangely familiar. I thought they were maybe in a TV show or small-time movie actors. Once they started handing Threadless buttons to me I realized the magnitude of the situation.

They were Threadless t-shirt models!!! Kristen and Colleen were both really nice. I took a picture with them, Threadless style, though I didn’t have a Threadless shirt on at the time. We exchanged business cards and I promised them I’d wear my Three Keyboard Cat Moon shirt the next day.

Sunday was a slow day for celebrity sightings but that was probably due to the fact that I was busy preparing for my panel the next day. Monday turned out to be a good day, both for my panel (more on that in a later post!) and for celebrity sightings!

My friends Sameer and Maureen and I were heading to the 20×2 party but found the foursquare party along the way. The line was huge but somehow we became VIPs by drinking some Vitamin Water and having out pictures taken. The party had a bunch of tables with t-shirts and schwag lined up. I got a Brizzly, Foursquare and something else (some kind of iPhone app company) shirt. While at the foursquare table I saw that iJustine girl. I talked with her for a second and got a picture with her. She seemed nice enough, but kinda had other things to do besides talk to me. She probably needed to go stream her life or something, whatevs!

danah boyd was also at the party but someone was chatting her up relentlessly. Sameer got her to say “Hi” (he’s met her before) but she had to run to the VIP area or something. She also seemed nice but kinda busy.

Later that night, Sameer and I were in the line for the Mens room and ran into the CEO of Twitter, Evan Williams! He was wearing the same dress shirt/sweater combo as during his keynote earlier in the day. Sameer asked for his business card and Ev nicely obliged. We didn’t get a picture. That might’ve been a bit too odd, given we were waiting for the bathroom. I heard that Ashton Kutcher was also at the party but I didn’t head up to the VIP area to check him out.


Overall it was a very good year for celebrity sightings at SXSW. I really wanted to meet Cashmore last year, so it’s great I finally got to talk with him a bit this time. Next year I hope to run into even more famous celebrities like Guy Kawasaki or Leo Laporte! See you soon, SXSW 2011!

Segway Tour Impressions

[flv:/blog/video/Segway.mp4 460 360]

This weekend, I was in Gettysburg, PA visiting a pal. Besides enjoying history, there are many other things to do. One of these things is riding a Segway around the historic battlegrounds. I guess that counts as enjoying history as well…

Emily, Katie and I set up an appointment at SegTours of Gettysburg for a “Segway Experience.” This did not include an actual tour. While we were getting ready for basic training, the lady asked us if we’d mind going on the real tour (she claimed she wanted to get more practice doing the tour). We were really happy to get a free upgrade since the reason for choosing the “experience” was to lessen the burden on our pocketbooks.

Basic training consists of Segwaying around in a parking lot until you get the hang of it. There are also cones involved. I got going pretty quickly. It probably has to do with the fact that I do Wii Fit a lot and thus am quite aware of my balance most of the time. The Segway accelerates backward and forward based on how much weight you put forward or backward. Staying stationary is kind of a challenge as you must keep your balance completely in the center. The video above is of basic training. There was an older couple who also did the training but didn’t feel confident enough to go on the tour. They were nice though; the older gentleman was smoking a pipe on his Segway.

The actual tour had us going through the Eastern battlefield. I must say, it was really fun going through alleyways and roads on the way to the actual battlefield. We also went through a hotel parking lot and passed a swimming pool. It’s really fun just effortlessly accelerating around while everyone else needs to walk up a hill. While the others complained about the Segway being a lot of work to ride, I thought it was pretty decent; just like standing.

What did I learn on my tour? That I want a Segway. I should really just get something more reasonable like a bike (which I think would provide the same kind of exhilaration, but with pedaling). Segway-riding is really fun and I hope to do it again some time. Oh, and history is also good, I guess.

Going To SXSW!

sxsw2009

In a few days, I am going to SXSW with my company, Troubadour Mobile. It’ll be cool. It’ll be awesome. I’ll miss lots of school.

Ever since I heard of SXSW, probably from Valleywag, I’ve wanted to go. There’ll be cool music, parties, swag, nerds, etc. I’m pretty stoked.

If you are also going to SXSW and you want to “follow” me (on the custom social network for conference attendees, my.sxsw.com, which is kinda cool), you can find me here.

Trip To Seattle (+ Program Manager Interview With Microsoft)!

I have been noticeably absent in this blog and others this month. So in typical Hung Truong Blog fashion, I felt like I should write about what’s going on in my life, including my everlasting job hunt. I know some have gained quite a lot of pleasure in reading about my various job hunt activities. Job hunting is kind of fun, especially when you’re in school and you don’t actually have a dire need for a job (well, I already have a job, but I know it’s gonna run out when I graduate).

Anyway, last weekend I interviewed at Microsoft for a Program Manager position. You might recall that I interviewed with Orbitz a few weeks prior. I got an offer from Orbitz and let the recruiters at MS know. Then the MS recruiters hurried up the process and let me interview with them. Pretty cool! I ended up declining the Orbitz offer (but it was awesome and I would have taken it if I hadn’t gotten a better offer, more on that later).

Um, I realize at this point that in the interest of actually getting a job, I should be neutral when I talk about companies. Luckily, all of the companies I’ve dealt with so far have been class acts. So I don’t really need to hold anything back. They’ve been awesome. The whole experience of job hunting has been a real eye-opener for me. From exploding offers and figuring out offer goodness, I’ve been learning a lot.

So anyway, I flew to Seattle and got there at around 11am. I got a rental car (a Toyota Highlander SUV) and drove to the Pike Place Market, which is apparently one of the really cool places to see. I got lunch there and wandered around various shops. Then I decided to go to the Seattle Library, which is really super awesome. And being a student at a library school, I knew I needed to check it out. The library had multiple floors of awesome. The decor in there is like Ikea, except cooler! And it’s in a library!

On my interview day, I tried leaving early but it took me a while to find Building 19 (the HR building) where I was supposed to meet with my recruiter. Microsoft campus is huge-ass. I was a little late. 19 is probably the spiffiest building I encountered, with its sorta dim lighting (for mood), Microsoft Surface to play with, and Rock Band! There were a lot of other students there waiting for their recruiter to get them. They all seemed kinda nervous. It was hard to get them to even acknowledge I was trying to joke around with them and get a posse to play. Then, I was about to start a song when my recruiter called my name. Ah, well.

From 10-4 it was interviews. They were each an hour long, except for a “lunch” interview which lasted 1.5 hours. And I had 30 minutes to sort of pass out after lunch before the final two interviews. Note to people looking for info on questions they ask in Microsoft interviews: don’t bother. I’ve noticed that a lot of people find my blog while they’re looking for interview questions to prepare for their own interviews. The thing that people don’t understand is that everyone asks different questions. And you don’t need to know the answers beforehand anyway. The whole point of the questions is that you answer them on the spot, and that the process of answering the question is what the interviewer wants to see. So if you knew the answer already, you might do worse in the interviewer’s eyes because they’d be like, “what the heck? This person doesn’t think!” Also, most of my questions were about me, so you’d have to do a lot of studying about Hung Truong if you wanted to ace my particular interview questions. </rant>

The interviews themselves were thoughtful and pretty cool. The people interviewing me were really smart and all seemed like cool dudes to work with. I mean, as a self-respecting geek I know that Microsoft has a certain reputation for software. The thing is that a company as big as Microsoft will inevitably have great products and not-so-great products. Also, I read this article in Fast Company about Gary Flake, my new(est) role model! MS is finally entering the web space like they mean it and it’ll be interesting to see how they approach it and how it will affect the other big players (Google and Yahoo… to some extent).

Finally, I had a chance to have dinner with a current MS employee. I chose my former classmate, Sameer. He and his wife took me to the Space Needle Restaurant, which was incredibly touristy and awesome. Oh, and expensive. Thanks for footing the bill, Microsoft! Seriously!

I know that most of my job hunt posts end in some kind of failure post (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4, etc). I’ve gotten pretty used to rejection over the past few years. But! It seems I’ve gotten better at interviewing! For I got an offer! I can’t (and probably shouldn’t) disclose certain things, so let’s just leave it at that. I have about a week to make my decision. I will probably make another post when I do make a final decision. And then we’ll finally have a proper burial for my series of job hunt posts, once and for all (or at least hopefully for a while!).